USAID, top donors to mainstream LGBTI rights in development programs

Booklets for USAID’s LGBT Vision for Action, which was launched in July 2014. The U.S. aid agency and other bilateral donors will release a joint communiqué as part of the efforts to advance LGBTI rights. Photo by: Robb Hohmann / USAID / CC BY-NC

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Rajiv Shah announced Friday that the organization and other bilateral donors are pushing efforts to promote LGBTI rights worldwide.

This push will come in the form of a joint communiqué, Shah said during closing remarks at the Global Conference on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Human Rights and Inclusive Development in Washington, D.C.

“Already signed by more than 20 countries, the communiqué will enable us to share best practices, improve international coordination, and advance a sustainable community based approach to our work,” Shah said. “We think because we now have years of experience, we have something to share.”

Todd Larson, senior LGBT Coordinator at USAID, said a final draft including all supporting countries should be available within the coming week.

This new initiative comes at a time when the U.S. aid agency and other bilateral donors are taking significant steps to incorporate the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersexed individuals into their development strategies.

Last year, USAID partnered with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute, the Williams Institute and Olivia Companies to unveil the LGBT Global Development Partnership — a new effort to promote LGBTI rights in developing countries.

As part of this initiative, USAID trained LGBT political activists in Colombia, and in Asia-Pacific the agency partnered with the U.N. Development Program to initiate “Being LGBT in Asia,” an examination of human rights and development challenges faced by LGBT individuals there.

Last summer, USAID launched its LGBT Vision for Action to establish what Shah on Friday called “a set of principles and specific activities to advance equality and work to ensure that our efforts to end poverty prioritize social justice.”

“For example, we’re conducting mapping exercises to identify local leaders and local organizations that can serve as agents of change in their communities, no matter how far-flung those communities may be,” explained the USAID chief, who emphasized the agency is looking for new partnerships using social media campaigns and mobile phone apps.

Mogens Jensen, Danish minister for trade and development cooperation, underscored his government’s commitment to LGBTI rights.

“Broad based and cross regional cooperation among all relevant stakeholders, including governments, civil society, academia, the private sector and the people, is critical for the global fight for securing the fundamental human rights for LGBTI persons,” said Jensen in a video message. “The fundamental human rights are not just Western values. They constitute core values for the international community, and we should all be able to work on this basis.”

But despite broad ranging efforts to ensure LGBTI rights are part of foreign and development policies, civil society leaders at Friday’s conference voiced three very specific ways donors can do better.

A civil society spokesperson read their suggestions aloud.

1. “Bilateral and multilateral funding agencies should enact policies and procedures to ensure that their contractors and grantees and their subcontractors and subgrantees that they fund ... implement programs that do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression and bodily diversity in service provision or employment.”

2. “Governments should be more transparent about their funding without compromising the security of grantees. Data should be disaggregated for LGBTI.”

3. “Part of the bilateral funding between states should be redirected directly into civil society. Civil society, as an important driver for change needs to be strengthened. The LGBTI movement as part of civil society needs robust and long-term core funding support alongside rapid response support. Currently, the funding that is channeled through bilateral agreements hardly reaches the destination it was intended for.”

How do you think development donors can further LGBTI human rights through their programs and policies? Please share your comment below.

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About the author

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    Jeff Tyson

    Jeff is a former global development reporter for Devex. Based in Washington, D.C., he covers multilateral affairs, U.S. aid, and international development trends. He has worked with human rights organizations in both Senegal and the U.S., and prior to joining Devex worked as a production assistant at National Public Radio. He holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations and French from the University of Rochester.